Researchers to track threatened black cockatoos at Murdoch University

August 26, 2015

Forest red-tailed black cockatoos are being released and tracked at Murdoch UniversityThe release and tracking of six rehabilitated forest red-tailed black cockatoos into Murdoch University’s wild flock will provide important information to enable conservation management to help the threatened species to survive.

This is the second stage of an innovative tracking program for threatened black cockatoo species in a collaborative study between Murdoch University, the Department of Parks and Wildlife and Perth Zoo.

Murdoch is home to one of the largest roosting populations of forest red-tailed black cockatoos in the metropolitan area, with an estimated population of up to 200 birds.

Department of Parks and Wildlife senior wildlife officer Rick Dawson said adaptation to exotic food resources has allowed forest red-tailed black cockatoos to change their behaviour and movement patterns over the past decade.

“The birds started to move into the metropolitan area in larger numbers approximately five years ago and have adapted to their new urban environment by eating exotic foods, in particular Cape lilac trees,” Mr Dawson said.

A flock of around 30 forest red-tailed black cockatoos moved onto Murdoch’s South Street campus in early 2010 and the University recorded the first breeding and hatching of a chick of the species on the Swan Coastal Plain in 2011, with a second hatching in 2012, making use of specially-designed artificial nesting hollows.

Murdoch University’s Associate Professor Kris Warren said it was likely that the birds were foraging in surrounding suburbs during the day and roosting on campus at night.

Field surveys conducted by Murdoch University research team member Dr Jill Shephard and Murdoch University second year ecology students in 2014 showed consistent use of metropolitan parklands for feeding within a 5 km radius of the campus. She and her students will build on this survey work this year.

“By tracking these birds as they integrate into Murdoch University’s resident flock, we will be able to build an accurate picture of the movements and behavioural patterns of the birds,” Professor Warren said.

“This data will help us with conservation management of this species in the urban environment.”

Murdoch University’s Sustainability Manager Leah Knapp said the University has undertaken many initiatives to protect the species.

“Murdoch has provided specially designed artificial nesting tubes for the birds and supplementary water on campus, in addition to managing a comprehensive revegetation strategy that provides food sources for both forest red-tailed black cockatoos and Carnaby’s cockatoos,” Ms Knapp said.

“We are very conscious of the threat of cars on campus, so we fill in pot holes to prevent the birds drinking on the ground in car parks and have erected black cockatoo signs to make sure all drivers are cockatoo aware.”

The birds will be fitted and monitored with leg bands, a satellite transmitter and a solar powered GPS tracker.

Dr Shephard said the GPS technology enabled researchers to gain an understanding of the birds’ behaviour, tracking when and where they are flying, eating or roosting.

The team aims to track the birds for a year, with the devices naturally being removed over time through feather moulting or preening by the birds.

The researchers are keen for members of the public to report any sightings of the study birds. The red-tailed black cockatoos in this study have coloured and numbered leg bands on the left and right legs, respectively. They have also had a white band painted on their tail feathers, but this will fade with time. Members of the public can report sightings of the study birds to the following address Blackcockatoo@murdoch.edu.au

The research program is funded by the Housing Authority in collaboration with Parks and Wildlife, Perth Zoo, University of Amsterdam and the Kaarakin Black Cockatoo Conservation Centre.

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